Christoph Eschenbach Reflects On His Life In Music

Aug 17, 2015

Former Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Christoph Eschenbach was awarded The Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for a life in the service of music this past May.

As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, music helped heal the emotional wounds Eschenbach suffered as a child in World War II, after he lost both parents. Eschenbach’s mother died at his birth, and his father, an active anti-Nazi, died in a punishment battalion sent to the front. Rescued from a refugee camp in 1945 by his mother’s cousin, the five-year-old Christoph didn’t speak for a year—until he started piano lessons.

He grew up to be a concert pianist in the 1960s and made his conducting debut in 1972. Two conducting mentors, he says, were George Szell and Herbert von Karajan. "Szell," he says, "was very concerned about form and phrasing," and Karajan wanted to hear "the colors in the orchestra," so Eschenbach feels that he had a broad base on which to build.

Along with positions in Europe, Eschenbach led the Houston Symphony for 11 years, The Philadelphia Orchestra from 2003 to 2008, and has been music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center since 2010. Last February, Eschenbach announced that he will step down from the NSO after the 2016-17 season, although he will continue as conductor laureate for another three seasons.

The Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, whose past honorees include Benjamin Britten, Herbert von Karajan, and Claudio Abbado, was presented to Christoph Eschenbach on May 31, 2015 in Munich.